Top Public Safety and Security Tech Trends for 2021

Year after year, the pace of technology innovation is accelerating. For example, not too long ago, IoT and mobile technologies were the way of the future. Today, they’ve become mature and stable technologies that most industries and organizations have successfully adopted. And with challenges like COVID-19 and natural disasters altering the way we work and live, we will continue to see new technologies quickly being embraced.

Every year, Gartner, IDC, Frost & Sullivan, and other technology consulting firms look forward and make predictions on what trends will affect organizations and industries in the near future. Some of the predicted trends align with the technology road maps of our public safety and security customers.

Here’s a look at the technology trends on the radar of forward-thinking public safety and security organizations in 2021.

Big data analytics

Technology is helping produce more information than ever before. The challenge facing public safety agencies is how to make sense of all this information to improve operational processes and, more importantly, turn public safety efforts from solely reactive to proactive. Incoming data must be sanitized, aggregated, and visualized in a manner that supports pattern recognition and anomaly identification, which will provide more informed data insight to the non-technical members of a public safety organization — including officers in the field and detectives.

The adoption of big data analytics solutions by public safety agencies is already occurring. In our recent survey of public safety professionals, 44% said data analysis was a “very important” part of their everyday job. We also discovered that 85% of respondents’ organizations are analyzing operational data (e.g., call-handling, dispatch, RMS, AVLS/APLS) to measure success. But while our survey indicated organizations are using data to measure success, public perception, and efficiency regarding call and dispatch performance, it also revealed significant potential to make improvements in safety and well-being through wider use of analytics.

The cloud

Agencies have no choice but to address big data head on, and adoption of the cloud goes hand in hand due to its ability to store, manage, and analyze huge amounts of data. While the cloud is a mature technology to many, some public safety organizations still view cloud technologies cautiously. Others in our survey (54%) said their organization uses cloud technologies, and the fact that 78% of respondents said their organization will be using cloud technologies in the future underscores its growing prevalence.

COVID-19, an increase in natural disasters, and more have pushed organizations to move to the cloud, if they weren’t already utilizing it. Public safety agencies are no different. Cloud technologies allow emergency professionals to be operative and effective no matter where they’re located. And if we’ve learned one thing from 2020, it’s that being able to operate from anywhere can be necessary.

Cloud also enables agencies of any size to benefit from the highest levels of security and resilience. These were factors behind the U.S. intelligence community becoming an early cloud adopter half a decade ago.

Technologies that enable citizen involvement

Citizens are the eyes and ears of our communities. They know better than anyone when there’s a suspicious person or vehicle in the neighborhood — when something “just doesn’t feel right.” With all the changes and advancements in communication over the years (e.g., social media, texting, image and video capture, etc.), emergency call center staff can gather valuable information and learn more from these citizens than ever before. To take full advantage of the latest communication capabilities and technology means public safety agencies are moving to Next Generation 9-1-1/112 (NG9-1-1/112).

NG9-1-1/112 enables emergency call centers to communicate with citizens in new ways. Voice, text, video, photos, and social media can be used to deliver information to emergency communications centers and request emergency assistance.

But, that’s not all. With the explosion of connected sensors in homes, vehicles, and cities, next-generation comms centers will also receive information from third-party sources, including alarms, vehicle telematics, video cameras, and intelligent roadway systems. This includes data services, such as citizen medical or hazardous materials location information.

With NG9-1-1/112, call-takers and dispatchers can use a wealth of information to make smarter decisions and increase the safety and effectiveness of first responders. Comms centers can then offer public safety services that are dramatically superior to what is possible today.

Assistive artificial intelligence

A massive tech trend already maturing for many industries is artificial intelligence (AI). Combining AI and automation enables organizations across vertical industries to achieve greater efficiencies and quality. Intelligent automation systems learn and adapt as they execute their workflows, enabling continuous process improvement. A recent IDC report described AI as “inescapable,” and predicts 90% of new enterprise apps will have embedded AI by 2025.

In public safety, AI is being used as an assistive tool to support continual, autonomous assessment that is more efficient, effective, and scalable than manual monitoring of video, alarms, and common operating pictures alone. With assistive AI, agencies can detect complex emergencies sooner, and provide staff with real-time actionable insights that enable them to make timelier and better-informed decisions.

From our recent survey, we found that only 2% of our public safety industry respondents rated the technology as “not so important” or “not at all important,” proving the overwhelming majority were largely positive about it. The survey also highlighted how organizations are already using AI: streamlining / expediting call-handling, enhancing situational awareness (intelligent filtering of data feeds), real-time actionable analytics for events, and investigation.

Technologies that address cybercrime

Advances in technology bring many opportunities to those who are not so well intentioned, like cyber criminals. Along with the big data trend, the instances of data theft and even data manipulation will increase. Public safety agencies will need to create new roles and organizations that specifically target cybercrime. This will require a combination of new capabilities and hiring new staff with cybersecurity expertise, as well as training existing staff in this area. As IoT continues to evolve, cyber criminals will attack a range of connected devices, widening the scope of their targets. Agencies must have the expertise and technologies to not only protect their own assets, but also investigate and deter cybercrime in the jurisdictions they serve.

It will take some time for agencies to ramp up their defenses against cybercrime, since the attackers are continuously evolving the sophistication of their methods with new targets and attacks. It is less an issue of technology adoption for agencies, and more a challenge of building an organization with the correct skill sets and establishing processes to defend against cybercrime.

Ambient user experience

Ambient user experience (UX) is the user-centric design approach that ensures relevant information appears at the right time, in the right place, in the right context, and on the right device. The number of devices used by officers daily continues to grow, including desktops, laptops, notebooks, smartphones, body cameras, and radios. The design of applications must take into consideration officers may use the application on multiple devices with multiple form factors. The UX should adapt and be consistent and effective as they move from device to device.

Breakthroughs in data analysis on user metrics and real-time operations enable UX teams to solve customer problems in new ways, from enhancing job-related skills and team collaboration to providing more situational awareness by giving people the right amount of meaningful data at the right time. The UX trend will be to incorporate emerging techniques and technologies into solutions, including powerful data analysis tools, gameful design, biometric data, and wearables to keep user safety and effectiveness at the heart of public safety solutions.

Shared awareness

Cities, states, and regions all have the need for cross-departmental situational awareness. Manual information sharing or ad hoc shared awareness relies on tools that don’t scale well and are haphazard (e.g., email, phone calls, social media groups, etc.). Departments need to coordinate actions and share information in real time, especially during situations that involve many departments.

Enhanced shared awareness tools can bridge the gaps across organizations to help coordinate actions by sharing data from departmental systems of record. These tools can be used every day across incidents in the region and scale to support major events.

Conclusion

The public safety industry is finally seeing a bigger push by agencies to embrace technologies proven to be smart adoptions by other industries. This trend was already in progress, but has certainly been expedited by the global pandemic that rocked the world in 2020 and exposed shortcoming in agencies’ existing critical systems and processes. As more and more public safety agencies implement these advanced technology tools and solutions, we believe the whole industry will recognize the value, see the benefits, and desire to keep pace.

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